There are longer parades around July 4, and bigger parades and more expensive parades.
But no parade anywhere matches the annual kids parade at Rock Hill’s Woodhaven Baptist Church Child Development Center.
Hundreds of kids paraded around the block Thursday, wearing costumes and hats and things that can be fastened to a wrist or shirt – anything that shows their love for America. Babies’ faces are painted. Strollers are covered with American flags. There was a little red wagon and a shiny red firetruck, boys as young as 3 racing after it on bikes and on trikes and on foot.
There was a cop with a siren and the Plair Band in the middle of it all playing, louder and louder, “When The Saints Go Marching In.”
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Tiny kids, white and black, Hispanic and Asian and American Indian, immigrants and born-heres – all held hands as they paraded around their block in Rock Hill, South Carolina, USA.
No parade ever was more beautiful. Or touching. Drivers stopped on the side of the road. One driver got out of her car, crying, and held her hand over her heart. She honked her car horn. She drove off wiping away tears of joy for a country that has parades of kids.
A guy out for a walk stopped and stared at the parade of kids and gawked, “What a country!”
He even walked close to the parade for a moment, just to be a part of something so powerful in its simplicity and unity that it could carry away a stranger in its wake.
“America, the Beautiful!” shouted out 10-year-old Olivia Ratliff as she paraded by waving an American flag.
“The greatest country” shouted Riley Morris next to her, also 10.
Another 10-year-old, Danielle Welch, said simply, “Celebrate America!”
Groups of kids were asked what July 4 meant and all shouted out the same things from different mouths: Freedom, America.
There were some adults in the parade, proud parents, but this parade that started out about 15 years ago as a dream of child care director Sheryl McKenzie has become a reminder in Rock Hill of what Independence Day and America are supposed to be about. The greatest country ever, by any measure of math or heart, celebrating what it is to be free.
No politicians of any party espousing anything are allowed within a mile of the place. That would ruin it.
McKenzie was asked whose class she was leading in the parade near the front.
“They are all my kids,” she said, as she was mobbed by kids of all colors who love her.
America at Woodhaven Baptist Church is red, white and blue, and every other color there is. It is kids who love the country not for what divides it, but what unites it. Its people.
Kids and parents who, together, walk around the block and careen on bikes with training wheels and horns and streamers waving the flags.